Language is both our most powerful cognitive tool and our most basic social institution, without which neither law, government, nor science would be possible. Because it is so central to nearly everything we do, its familiarity tempts us to overestimate how much we understand about the way it functions in different domains. My task is to illuminate (i) how to extract legal content from linguistic acts of lawmakers in the United States, and (ii) how this linguistically expressed content is sometimes modified by legal interpretation, when law is applied to particular cases. Although (i-ii) are grounded in facts about ordinary communicative uses of individual language users, there are key differences between the institutional contexts of legal uses and the communicative contexts of ordinary, individual uses. These must be understood if broadly originalist legal theories for systems like ours are to be maintained.
Lawrence Alexander & Steven D. Smith
"Meanings, Speech Acts, and Legal Contents Produced by Plural Lawmaking Bodies,"
The Journal of Contemporary Legal Issues: Vol. 24:
1, Article 15.
Available at: https://digital.sandiego.edu/jcli/vol24/iss1/15